"The caramel sauce ran down the sides like lava off a volcano."
When I think of Jell-O, I think of things that are solidly American, such as no-bake cheesecake, instant chocolate pudding, and edible vodka shots. That's why I was so surprised to see a mix for flan on the supermarket shelf, tucked in between the boxes of more typical flavors like kiwi-strawberry and watermelon. How well could Jell-O pull off a traditional European dessert? I was curious to find out.
The process of preparing the flan was quite similar to the process of preparing a cook-and-serve pudding. (Heat milk and mix to a boil. Pour into serving cups. Chill.) The one additional step involved dividing a little packet of caramel between the ramekins before pouring the hot pudding mix on top.
As I did this, I noted that the caramel was quite runny, more the consistency of a vinaigrette than a gooey sauce. In the picture on the box, the caramel layer sat on top of the creamy custard like a little cap. I highly doubted mine would turn out that neatly.
After preparing the pudding, which was an odd color bordering on saffron orange, I divided it between the ramekins. The instructions said to work slowly to avoid disturbing the caramel layer, but no matter how carefully I poured the caramel swirled up and mixed with the pudding. Even before I set the ramekins in the refrigerator to chill, I knew there was no way my flans were going to have caramel tops.
After a few hours, I removed a flan from the fridge and slid a thin knife around the edge of the ramekin to unmold it. I flipped it onto a dessert plate then lifted the ramekin. No flan. A lot of the caramel sauce had gushed out, though. I went back with the knife and wiggled the custard. It made a sucking sound, resisted a bit, and then plopped onto the plate in a fat little blob. The caramel sauce ran down the sides like lava off a volcano. It wasn't pretty.
Unfortunately, it didn't taste much better. The flan wasn't at all creamy or custardy. Instead, the mouthfeel was squishy and gelatinous. It was also cloyingly sweet, with no trace of real caramel flavor. In the end, the Jell-O mix was a complete flan flop. Try it if you're curious, but my advice is to stick with the pudding.